There are two prominent motives for why Douglass wrote the story of his life. The primary reason for writing his story is targeted at the slaveholders and powerful people of New England, where the abolitionist movement was strongest. Also, Douglass soon became the leading black abolitionist and one of the most famous orators of the time. His eloquent words about his treatment as a slave were a powerful weapon against slavery; however, as his oratory grew more polished, audiences began to question whether he had ever been a slave, which gave Douglass another reason to write his book. To dispel these doubts, he published his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845). In this work he named his former owners and described every aspect of his life under slavery. Douglass, however, omitted details about his method of escape so as not to jeopardize similar attempts by other slaves. His Narrative was one of the most effective accounts written by a fugitive slave, and it became a major source of information about slavery. When Douglass published the details of his life as a slave, he was in danger of recapture under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Laws, which allowed masters to seize runaway slaves and return them to bondage. Because of his growing prominence, Douglass feared the Aulds, his masters, would send agents to capture him and return him to Maryland. Therefore in 1845, Douglass went abroad, and for two years, he toured England and Ireland speaking against slavery.
Frederick Douglass' narrative is a highly expository book concerning the subject of slavery. The book is very political, in that it is written to advocate the cruelties of the institution of slavery, and gain support for its abolition. Douglass analyzes the many different elements that allowed whites to keep control of their institution. Most importantly, he gives the reader a first hand experience as to what the oppression did to him and his people.